I am not a closet alcoholic, but I do go to church

My friend, Susan Irwin, wrote today’s piece—a reflection on her experience in church.

It has been one interesting place

© 2011 Susan Irwin

A good friend of mine moved to the States several years ago. During her first few months there, one of the strange differences she noticed was that within twenty minutes of meeting people they would ask her what church she went to.

Imagine that.

I think you might find it easier here to say that you are a closet alcoholic than that you go to church. Just using those few words, “then I went to church” can create an awkward silence as people wait for you to start Bible thumping or born againing.

This is where I am proud to be a United Church member. No one tells me what to believe. I am encouraged, coaxed, urged, and sometimes even poked and prodded, into thinking of what matters to me as a person and where my spiritual journey is going.

Like many others, I was brought up getting into my Sunday best and heading out to church with the family each week. I still have the Bible given to me for perfect attendance in 1962. They even put my name on it in gold letters—I do recall being very impressed about that.

And, like many others, I fell away from church when I was a teenager. It all seemed so archaic and out of touch with the real world.

When my son was five years old, we were walking down the street one day and he asked me what a particular building was.  “A church,” I said.

“Why don’t we go to church?” he asked.

I was flummoxed. “Do you want to go to church?” I asked him.

“Yes, I do,” was the quick reply.

That Sunday, off we went to our first service. Before I knew it, I was teaching Sunday School. That experience helped me to regain my appreciation that we are part of a larger whole; that the Biblical stories and history I had casually brushed aside are reflected in art and literature, and they help to provide continuity to all generations. I remembered that teaching about compassion, empathy and justice for all is a valuable thing. Both for the child and for me.

Returning to church as an adult also revealed to me that hymns had been imprinted on my neurons and I didn’t even know it. I loved to sing out loud without being mocked for it. And I loved to listen to the choir and the organ. Partaking of the words and music of hymns, both old and new, results in a special kind of enjoyment.

The other thing I tell people is that church is a comfort.  And I mean that in different ways.

It is an endlessly reassuring comfort to know just how many good and caring people there are both in our neighbourhood and our world. In my congregation are folks who do hands-on work to help the less fortunate in our immediate community, and there are groups that reach out to the larger world to make it a better place.

And when facing personal times of trial, like when my mother died, church was my community of caring. The comforting consolation offered by so many members of the congregation still warms my heart.

During my fifteen years back at church, there have been many changes and upsets and happy and unhappy moments. It has been one interesting place. And I thank God for it.

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